Undertaker: Last Ride – Review

To seek out closure in any aspect of life is a truly rare thing. For any performer to willingly let go of the spotlight and a sold out audience is something rarer. In professional wrestling many have never been able to close the door on their own terms and to be able to do that, to end a legacy and tenure on one’s own terms is something that doesn’t get seen very often. 

For those who know me will know that the pageantry and mystique of professional wrestling has had a place in my heart since before the years I ever aspired to pen any book, or write any blog but still to me wrestling is story telling. When it’s good, it’s awesome and of course many will laud the bad’s of an industry that once upon a time I aspired to get into. We’ve all heard of the premature deaths, or various scandals of new and old, most of us have even done a few laps on the whole ‘fake’ contemplation racetrack. The truth is wrestling is a performance; something I always dreamed of doing.

WWE The Last Ride: Who Should Be The Undertaker's Final Opponent?

Of course I itched my performing scratch big time by swapping out the ambition of stepping between those ropes to treading the boards and taking in the spotlight via theatre instead, and even though my ten years as a performer don’t compare anywhere near to most who have any type of career in pro wrestling, I can fully relate to the addictive nature of what performing is. For me and quite fortunately I had always been eyeing up a way off the stage, to have my day and be done, then to find a way to escape the pressure of learning lines, wearing goofy costumes, dealing with performers who don’t take things as seriously and of course risking my own mental health to stand up in front of strangers. That escape came in the form of script writing and so I haven’t fully turned away from performing but taken a diagonal turn towards new challenges. But most importantly my escape from performing was both peaceful and final. It was the ‘Star Wars’ ending, it was closure.

The Undertaker is a name that sits in the very upper echelons in the realms of pro wrestling. It’s a character that has never really been broken or had any type of backstage lid lifted upon it. There hasn’t been any ‘shoot’ type interviews over the many years by the man behind the ‘gimmick’ Mark Calaway who has operated, since 1990 mind, when the likes of Hulk Hogan headed match cards. Luckily for me I managed to see the Undertaker way back in 2009 when at a Smackdown taping in London where he faced off with the Big Show and yes his entrance is as awesome as it looks, even from the nose bleed seats…

Quite recently the WWE network has premiered 5 special and ever so candid documentary style interviews with the Undertaker in the form of a series called ‘Last Ride’. Each episode follows the Undertaker who, without many realising this really is his final ride and crowning piece to a thirty year career. It goes into depth about the feelings of a man who has gone round and round in his time in the squared circle.

Much of the theme focuses on family. The Undertaker has kids and a wife, Michelle McCool – a name fans of the female wrestling movement will know and you can see the strain it is putting on her concerns for a man who might not know he is at the end of his career. During these 5 episodes we get a roller coaster ride as it covers his final years and matches with have been rare occasions of recent, from his initial ‘retirement’ moment against Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania to the few special exhibition matches that didn’t go too well; Bill Goldberg comes to mind. There is even some in depth look at the ‘streak’ where the Undertaker went 21 years without a loss at Wrestlemania – something that should have never been broken in my mind. In a sense it just goes round and round on a somewhat damning repeat for the Undertaker who is either looking for redemption in one match or finality in another. This vicious cycle is something he must break to find some finality.

10 Things We Learned From WWE's Undertaker: The Last Ride (Final ...
Without giving much away because even on this blog spoilers matter, the whole docu-series is well worth watching, even for the casual fan of wrestling, like me I don’t tune in much these days. You’ll see wrestling in a different light and through the eyes of a man who has been there the longest. ‘Taker’s interactions with others backstage is seen for the first time along with his emotional journey of seeking closure, it really is gripping. Those with their ear on the Twitter verse ground will know the Undertaker has used this show to laud his perhaps final retirement, and whether or not he is going to stay away from the spotlight and squared circle, this show has been the vessel for a great ending of a great career in performance, sports entertainment and the culture of wrestling. For the Undertaker it has been closure.

 

 

The stories that inspire us – Skyrim

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

Buy The Elder Scrolls® V: Skyrim® from the Humble Store

I firmly believe that Skyrim may be the greatest video game ever made and stay with me here, even if you aren’t a gamer because there are very few video games that give players their own licence to shape their time in a world that is wholly interactive, beautifully constructed and most importantly immersive.

From the epic introductory music that leads into an ensemble of visual and audio beauty Skyrim follows the typical chosen one trope where you, the player are thrown in to a ‘Tolkienesque’ world of being a second coming who is able to face a returning ancient threat; dragons. How you walk down that path is entirely up to you, via magic, via combative brute strength or perhaps sneakily and stealthily that choice falls upon anyone who takes on this game making every journey unique and different – something all games stride to succeed in and maybe Skyrim does that the best and that is what sets it aside. No matter what action the player takes, the level system is counting, adding exp and shaping your character based on what it does in the world.

You can learn magic in detail, from conjuration to restoration but the real magic is all around. The end of 2011/start of 2012 was mostly a wonderful time in my life and perhaps that romanticizes the memories of when I picked up this game and took my first dive into this genre. Although I came late to the RPG genre at 22 I have certainly made up for it over the years with three Fallout games but for me it all started with Skyrim and I have decided to reignite this blog series because I have been playing the remastered version of the game on PS4 over the past few months and it reminded me of how beautiful this game truly is. Lockdown nights have been a breeze with Skyrim as a companion.

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Visuals of rolling hills covered in snow, tundras drenched in sunlight, mountains, sea and castle dominated cityscapes. There is no shortage of picturesque backdrops in this open world where anything can happen while the player chooses to do anything they like. Join one of the many factions from a secret sect of werewolves to a guild dedicated to thievery. Many a tomb await filled with the dreaded Draugr or it could even be an old castle filled with undesirable raiders to the ruins of an ancient civilization now populated with those pesky and tough Falmer. The game is a living and breathing work of art all of which can be further crafted by the player.

The actual gaming experience can be anything that player wants, you can pursue the main story line if you so desire or just go anywhere else the path leads you. Eventually destiny of an intricate and layered quest system will pull you in the right direction. What inspires me the most about Skyrim is the freedom for the game to let it be whatever the player wants it to be, the sheer scale of this production is on the grandest of scales and for that and to me it resides in video game greatness.

Can you name a story as accessible and immersive as the one of the Dragonborn? 

Darke Blood 3 year ‘Book-iversaire’

It’s been three years since Darke Blood was released. The reason I acknowledge this milestone is because during the writing process of that book I firmly believe I hit the point of no return on the road to becoming a writer. And plus in life, you should celebrate the little things… image

Now I firmly believe a true writer isn’t just someone who puts together one story and a bunch of concepts to then throw into the world. A writer is someone who can fashion a story from very little to create a lot multiple times. One book isn’t enough to find yourself as a story teller, but two, means it was no fluke.

I could lather it up with this artistic talk but I’ll just admit ‘Darke Blood’ was a pain in my ass to write and put together. 2016 – the year I drafted it was a tough year, I had bad sciatica, I was getting used to working shifts (albeit badly) and all around the writing stuff didn’t seem to be flowing. A few times I almost dragged DB to the recycling bin but now I don’t regret persevering once. Digging deep in times of struggle comes with reward and that’s what I got with ‘DB’.

It has become my most successful and most critically acclaimed book. Yes there a few moments where the story is a bit ‘out there’ and trust me I know it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to immerse a reader and that’s what story telling sometimes needs to be. As book it must have worked and this one fashioned and shaped my tenure as a pensmith while also shaping the Order of the Following Series which it is now a part of.

You can expect more from the ‘Darke’ series this September as the follow up and sequel ‘Darke Awakening’ arrives which is also a crossover to Open Evening and Cemetery House. Currently I am drafting the third and final ‘Darke’ book which will cap the pentalogy that is the Order of the Following.

Happy ‘Darke’ Day! 

The stories that inspire us – PlayStation 2

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

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It is the most successful gaming console to date and this week twenty years ago it was released; apart from the wave of some readers probably muttering ‘Oh god I am old’ this is a fantastic piece of history to celebrate in gaming and I was lucky enough to be a kid at the time… 

158 Million people owned a PS2 with the original release coming out in Japan on the 4th of March 2000 – the rest of the world would have to wait until later on in the year and me, I got hold of one after spending all of my 13th birthday money in 2002. To this day I still remember shopping around finding the best deal which came from the now extinct (in the UK) Woolworths.

Having been very lucky to own its predecessor PlayStation, like all kids I wanted the new thing and so that fresh plastic smell dominated the living room as I opened the packaging and set it up. The very first game I played was Medal of Honor: Frontline – which was a tribute to history itself while also nodding to the Spielberg epic ‘Saving Private Ryan’. A group of us crowded around the living room television while it took us away to artillery fire and allied soldiers on a beach in France. I have always embraced the imagination of where a game takes you and this was history.

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PlayStation 2 had a lasting influence on my life and even now as a writer its still inspires my stories. Back then I had all the time in the world to play but not a lot of income so new games would be sparse and arrive via birthdays and Christmas. I could always rely on a service which doesn’t exist anymore: Blockbuster video game rentals… The race would be on to complete a rented game in the handful of days I owned it and many many times I succeeded but again with a small crowd around the screen.

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Red Faction shaped my science fiction writing….

Not only did the games of PlayStation 2 shape my writing influence they also played a huge part in introducing me to the music I would come to align myself with.

These were still the days when parents overlooked age ratings on games and by Christmas 2002 my uncle gifted me possibly the greatest PS2 game ever and not for the reasons you think.

Yes the story was great and the whole production was amazing and Grand Theft Auto Vice City is indeed an incredible playing experience but for me it was a gateway to rock music.

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Bands like Twisted Sister, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Megadeath, Motley Crue and Tesla would blare out of my room while I cruised along Vice Beach – this was my safe haven and back then rock music was bullying material at school. That music paved my interest into the bands I listen to today and without out it there would be no Rock and Roll man!

Looking back on this era of gaming, it truly was a golden age and I’ve only mentioned the tip of what is a huge iceberg of games, so check out my favourites below….

Do you have any PlayStation 2 memories?

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The stories that inspire us – ‘The Simpsons’

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

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America’s   The world’s favorite family get nowhere near enough credit these days and for a show that has been running one year longer than I have, that deserves a mention. The Simpson’s has not only paved the way for so many animation shows over the years but it has been the bringer of humor, fun and even some very moving character moments. It’s taken up a tenured residency in the homes of so many people and I know for a fact even today there is nothing worth watching at 6pm other than most probably the greatest cartoon ever created.

Many of us take The Simpson’s for granted and there is a theory that it’s nowhere near as funny as it used to be. While I partially agree, just the other day I laughed out loud during a moment of a very recent episode. The sheer amount of characters and their interactions make the show’s premise pretty much limitless and the 30 plus seasons carry that truth via Matt Groening who some folks would refer to as a ‘boomer’ but it is with his humor and imagination these stories come to life. Whether it’s a tribute or spoofing of a popular film or even a nod to a current political moment, there isn’t much that doesn’t get a mention in Springfield.

While some of the ever important characters may have appear to be parodies of those in the popular limelight , they have lasted in creating their own identities that people love to watch. Of course this is aligned with ever important real life celebrity cameos and a just a dusting of real world family values and you have the show. 

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Over the years there have been countless moments that have not only inspired my comedy but have kept me company since as long as I can remember. Who could forget the Springfield Monorail or even when somebody shot Mr Burns. Sideshow Bob must get an honorable mention while also nodding to Homer Simpson’s many many adventures, from tripping on chilli to tackling alcoholism or even thinking he had only days to live. The annual ‘tree house of horror’ episodes are now as ritualistic and trick or treat for Halloween.

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Above all it’s a show about life and how to embrace the funny side of it while also learning lessons. For years the Simpson’s has entertained us and for that is must be honored.

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Is there a chance the track could bend?

Do you have a favorite moment from The Simpsons? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stories that inspire us -‘Hamlet’

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

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Shakespeare, the original story teller. The true architect of language and narrative. You’ll find his influence near enough everywhere when it comes to the written and spoken word; sometimes you won’t even know you are using a phrase that he originally influenced. His works these days have even extended to cinema and television. 

Many of us came across the Bard’s work during our school years. Too many walk away from those lessons thinking his work is boring and almost inaudible to follow. That’s a tragedy in its own right and probably down to a lack of teaching execution. Although I don’t blame teachers not being an effective vessel to explain Shakespeare, like all art it’s  an acquired taste and also subjective.

For me Hamlet is the true epitome of story telling. It has almost everything a good story should have. Love, life and death with near enough all the elements that make a good story just that. Betrayal, deception and triumph; enveloped by that word ‘tragedy’.  They never taught me about Hamlet at school. I remember ‘Macbeth’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ but the Prince of Denmark and his laments I didn’t find out until I was cast as him in the play.

When you take on a work for the stage, be that by any writer you take a part of them and perform it as your own. You also sometimes; not all the time, become engrossed into their story and by becoming a character you only truly appreciate the weight of a story and it’s true power.

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Death is all around Hamlet, the character and the story. His ever so famous ‘to be or not to be’ monologue is about the contemplation of such and as the story unfolds death slowly reaches over near enough all involved. He urges love interest ‘Ophelia’ to get away which becomes an unintentional shun leading to the shuffling of her mortal coil. ‘Claudius’ plays the typical step father figure that is cliche even to this day – he did have a hand in killing his brother who happens to be Hamlet’s father the King; sound familiar yet Simba?

The only significant survivor by the close of play – spoiler alert; although you’ve had hundreds of years –  is ‘Horatio’ who utters those ever so famous words but before then we see a deceptive plot to poison Hamlet which goes ‘badly’ for Shakespeare’s standards along with a memorable duel. As I said it has everything and as our language continually evolves further and further away from that used in this classic tale, it’s so important we remember and honour it.

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For those looking to improve their craft on stage nothing will do it better than the words of William Shakespeare. From modulation and dictation all the way to understanding of how a basic story is put together and all the way to being able to learn lines – if you’ve learned and nailed Shakespeare on stage, everything and I say everything you do after will be noticeably easier. Great stories of tragedy or even triumph never fade and well I suppose the rest is silence….

Do you have a favourite Shakespeare work? 

The stories that inspire us – ‘Dumb and Dumber’

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

Comedy is often overlooked in this world. The ability to make one laugh is possibly the most human thing someone can do and to me one of the easiest ways to make someone comfortable or uncomfortable. Most of us know there is a very fine margin between comics and depression but laughter can be a vessel out of the darkness.

‘Hey, wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?’

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‘Dumb and Dumber’ is a film that many might judge by it’s simplistic title and much of the story is simple but to me it’s a fun and even heartwarming story about friendship. Two friends Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) are going nowhere in life ‘unless you wanna work forty hours a week…’ and set out on a road trip to reunite a briefcase that Lloyd witnessed a woman drop before getting on a flight. It’s the typical road trip buddy story where the pair find themselves in stupid but very funny situations.

‘Why you going to the airport? Flying somewhere?’

Like a lot of cinema in history it has a few non PC moments but for most of the film Dumb and Dumber carries an innocent level of comedy in the realms of stupidity – both on a physical and literal level. Without over analysing it, the script is a juggernaut of quotes that I say to myself quite often. Much of my comedy influence has come from this film over the years where both actors put in considerable performances and today their resumes are decorated.

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Carrey and Daniels are household names

The film appeals to a wide range of ages which is the key to all successful comedy. There are more adult style gags which will go over younger audience’s head’s while the physical and straight up silliness will get everyone laughing. Although this film was released in the early 90’s it still stands up quite well and the soundtrack like all Farrelly brother’s films is golden.

‘You know, Lloyd, just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this… and totally redeem yourself!’

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For many years and even today this is film that brightens up my day. It’s fun, silly and easy to watch. You can find the influence of Dumb and Dumber in much of my work from my novella ‘The Teleporter’ to the Pantomime plays I have written.

It is my opinion that without comedy the world would be a much darker place. And if you are ever feeling down in any way my advice; find something that makes you laugh – for me that’s Dumb and Dumber.

Do you have a go-to comedy film or series? 

The stories that inspire us – ‘Beauty and the Beast’

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

I was five years old when the theatre bit me and it bit me hard. It wouldn’t be until fifteen years later that I walked through the doors of a drama club and realised my life long dream of becoming a performer. Even though I was and still am introverted on the surface, in 2010 I finally had the confidence to take the plunge onto the stage.

In recent times Disney have boasted their adaptation of Beauty and the Beast to be as old as time. Perhaps it is and the theatre production which bit me hard just happened to be Beauty and the Beast – a tour of the Disney inspired version. Although it was quite a while ago now I still remember being captivated by the colours, the sights, a walking candlestick and of course the spectacle of a Beast overcoming a curse and magically transforming into a Prince. It’s a story that has and always will have a place in my heart. The animation and recent live action film are both spectacular to enjoy as an adult and for children alike and the same can be said for the original fairy tale.

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In fact the original fairy tale is probably the best of all fairy tales and even though that is just my subjective opinion the premise, characters and overall story is pretty solid and you can understand why Disney have had success with it. Even though their version is scaled down in some senses by omitting the sisters they add their own spin on things in their own fashion.

My own story telling and performing have always run in a sort of parallel. For some years they were hand in hand but very separate. I would write science fiction/horror while my performing self would appear in pantomimes based on fairy tales and comedy farces or even some Shakespeare. Being in shows gave me confidence to reveal to the world that I wanted to be a writer – it also helped both socially and even in job interviews. I guess you can say I owe a lot to performing and those two hands which held those separate things – story telling and performing would eventually clasp each other as I put together a short comedy play known as ‘Hotel Doom’. With moderate success for a community drama club production my eyes were set firmly on another sight; a full length pantomime play – a British tradition and the big time annual ‘thing’ that my drama club did to survive.

I began work in adapting my own version of Beauty and the Beast taking influence from the many shows I had been in along with that original tale; of course some minor inspiration came from the ‘mainstream’ versions but all in all, the script is original and my own. My main inspiration came not only from the solid source material but also from when I was a kid myself looking up to that stage and seeing the Beast transform along with those colours and everything else.

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Those who know me closely will know the outcome. The Iver Heath Drama Club took on my script and in a sense took a huge leap; never had anyone in the 70 plus year history of that community club had ever written a full length show. The script was way more expansive and ambitious than anything seen at that club. The cast of 18 performers and chorus ensemble put on a show that sold out all performances and even had standing ovations; even now I get emotional thinking about how that whole show went. All of it was inspired by a story that has lasted the test of time and that is the true dream any writer or creator has – to see their work last that test of time.

Beauty and the Beast is a story that inspired my writing and helped it reach heights I would never imagine. Up until now it is my finest moment in story telling and combines my performing and writing.

It still pays dividends as this year Iver Heath Drama Club have entrusted me again to put on another show inspired by Snow White; which is yet another pinnacle fairy tale.

Do you have a favourite fairy tale? 

 

 

 

 

 

The stories that inspire us – ‘Timeline’

The stories we read, see and hear sometimes leave a lasting effect on our lives. Stories inspire us to be who we are. They shape our own journey and can take the mind anywhere. There are some stories that effect us so much, they even shape our future…

Welcome to a new series that hopes to give insight to some of the stories I have experienced that shaped me and my writing. Many of them I hold close to my heart and some you may end up taking on as recommendations. Without the stories in this series I would not be here today!

Although this series will cover stories from all mediums it starts with a book that might possibly be one of the most important I have ever read. This is the story of destiny and how I came to find a story called Timeline. 

I grew up near Heathrow Airport, in fact the runway stood no more than two miles from my house. We were parallel to it so we didn’t get the flight path noise, plus in that distance there were a stack of fields and houses in that space. The sounds of take off and jet engines I found comfort in, I still do. Eventually I found myself a job at the Airport. In 2005 I was sixteen years old without a clue about the real world, what real work was or who I really wanted to be. The dream of being a writer was still forming and back then the prospect of being anything and nothing all at once fed the imagination of the dreamer in me. Back then I had never properly read much apart from some kids stories and of course ‘the Lost World’ by Conan Doyle – another entry for another day perhaps…

The work I found wasn’t great. It was a bottom rung of the ladder type of gig although the money wasn’t bad for someone my age. My first job; aircraft cleaner. My stint at Heathrow only lasted about six weeks – sixteen year old Lee didn’t want to work Christmas so he handed in his notice… but the one thing I did get out of that job may serve as my reading and writing destiny. This is what I found, discarded and probably aimed at the trash… (you don’t ever throw books away, that’s a rule)

82388540_2767793129922668_5957050524938272768_nI picked up this book while cleaning and immediately the authors name grabbed me.

‘That’s the guy who wrote Jurassic Park, I’m sure…’ 

And I was right. Michael Crichton is the guy who wrote Jurassic, so if he can tell a story that good about dinosaurs then what can he do with time travel?  Being a big time fan of Back to the Future my mind was open about another time travel caper. So what can he do with time travel?

My answer is: everything you can imagine and more! I took this beaten and weathered book home and read it cover to cover in around ten or so days over Christmas 2005 – I had no friends anyway…

The picture above was taken especially for this entry. Timeline sits on my shelf alongside eleven other Michael Crichton novels. When I open it, I still smell that musk of old pages, it takes me back to that moment where I discovered a novel about realistic time travel. But it’s not just about that, like all good books, like all good Crichton books, it’s about so much more. As well as being a history lesson, it’s a roller coaster of science, action, deception, twists and turns. When I finished reading this book I had only one goal in life – to read more of Crichton’s works and I did. My aspiration and dreams of becoming a writer began to form because of this man’s work and his stories.

If there is a truly pinnacle moment in my writing and reading journey it would be when I found Timeline. Only three years after I had found this book Crichton sadly passed away and I remember exactly where I was. I will never be able to thank him personally for the story that inspired me to go on a write my own works under his influence with his works on my shelf beside mine where they will always be. The inspiration of stories lives on in those who have read them and experienced them.

Have you ever found or been given a book and it ended up being a masterpiece?